The 7 Levels of Frugality – Find Your Sweet Spot

By | 2016-11-11

After reading 1000’s of posts and articles from across the Personal Finance spectrum combined with some personal experiences I decided to take a crack at The 7 Levels of Frugality.

Are there broad generalizations? ——- Yes.   Are they 100% accurate? —— No, but I think most people can peg themselves in a two category range at a minimum. Read on and see where you fall.

the-7-levels-of-frugality

“The Cheapskate”

While you are saving a ton of money, you haven’t thought about what you are going to do with it. The goal is simply save more at any cost.

Characteristics

  • You don’t put a lot of weight on quality, cost rules your decision making
  • Things don’t get replaced when they are broken – your tool box contains duct tape
  • You wear zubaz will holes in the butt out in public because you don’t want to buy new pants that have limited use

Its ok to be a cheapskate on certain things, but I think you may have lost site of the purpose of money. Stop hoarding it just to hoard it, and put it to use on happiness.

“The Frugality Master”

Every penny is tracked, justified and stretched. You have spent years building great money habits and are likely pushing for FIRE status (Financial Independent – Retired Early).

Characteristics

  • Splurging on something new is a rare occurrence, you will try to get by with your current possessions and upgrading is tough to justify
  • You will reach into the bottom of a 30 pound dog food bag to grab the last few kernels even though your arm will smell like dog food the rest of the day
  • You weigh preventative maintenance vs cost of replacement and make informed decisions
  • Are already debt free (Or closer by the paycheck) and prioritize saving over spending

One thing to watch out for  – Don’t miss out on amazing opportunities because you don’t want to part with some cash

“The Thoughtful Splurger”

This category is very similar to the previous category but a premium is put on experiences over money. Likely can be found traveling the world or trying new restaurants. While you are pursuing FIRE, you refuse to give up certain experiences along the way.

Characteristics

  • Weigh Quality vs Cost on specific items you care about or use frequently and will pay higher prices
  • Are either Debt free or know the day you will be
  • Outside of the justified splurges, you have your financial life together

“Frugal-Ish”

Not because you don’t have the money, but you pick spots that you don’t care to spend more and stick to it. You understand the risks of debt and are working on getting rid of it at an accelerated rate.

Characteristics

  • Generic over brand name because you can’t tell the difference
  • For some reason or another you refuse to spend money on certain items – personally I hate greeting cards 🙂
  • You save a good portion of your income, but could probably trim another 10-15% off spending with a few adjustments or sacrifices.

 If you are only picking low cost areas to be frugal in, the balance sheet might not reflect it. Make sure the 20% of non-frugal decisions you make don’t skew the 80%.

“The Tweener”

There is always a break even category right? 50-50 shot your are improving or destroying your financial situation month in – month out.

Characteristics

  • You aren’t frugal, but don’t spend more than you earn either
  • You don’t spend a lot of time thinking through money decisions – but know enough to avoid the worst kinds of debt (Credit Card)
  • Are able to cover all your bills every month without panicking, but don’t have a lot of money to cover emergencies

With a few minor tweaks to your spending you could bump yourself up into the frugal zone

Forced “Frugality”

You get frugal closer to Pay Day because your cash stash is dwindling. Maybe you had a rough month, maybe your house is eating to much of your paycheck.

Characteristics

  • You will share a meal with your dog instead of buying dog food so it goes on the next credit card bill
  • A Financial Emergency will send you into a panic
  • Your financial decisions are made in 2 week increments, no long term financial outlook
  • Not saving money, but have a smidge of cost awareness

Set some yearly saving goals and make incremental changes to improve your financial situation

“Ballin in Debt”

Very little attention is paid to your finances, and specifically your spending. More is going out than coming in and the bulk of your money is not contributing to happiness.

Characteristics

  • Credit Card Debt is standard, minimum payments aplenty
  • You may weigh quality over cost, but the items you buy might not be used frequently or really matter to you. The “Have it to Have it” mentality.
  • If you have a high income, you better keep it……forever

 Take a hard look at your current trajectory, do you want to work forever? If not, there is not better time to start changing than now

Where We Fall

We fall somewhere between “The Thoughtful Splurger” and “Frugal-Ish”. I know we haven’t reached Frugality Master status because I thought of this post when I wasn’t willing to spend anymore time trying to get the rest of the dog food out of the bag. 5 bag shakes is my max.

Find Your Sweet Spot!

There isn’t a single level that everyone should strive to be in. But that doesn’t mean you should strive to be in one of the extremes either. I think everyone would agree that getting the most for your money while simultaneously creating happiness is ideal.

Work yourself into one of the “Sweet Spot” categories and experiment until you know your limits. You may be happiest being Frugal-ish while not giving up things that Frugal Masters scoff at. And its totally ok.

If you are in the bottom levels, start challenging yourself to cut some spending or think about your financial future.

Where do you fall? Curious to see if we have any of the extremes reading. I sprinkled in some first hand experiences through a few categories for entertainment purposes.

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42 thoughts on “The 7 Levels of Frugality – Find Your Sweet Spot

  1. Rachel @ The Latte Budget

    This is great. When people hear “frugal,” they tend to think of it in a negative way. I personally am the “thoughtful splurger.” I tend to spend more money on travel and food because of the experience. But I have a hard time buying a lot of new “things.” Like budgeting, it’s just a matter of what your personal priorities are!

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      I have a feeling a lot of PF bloggers will fall into that category – has the best of both worlds. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  2. Roadrunner

    I’m most likely a thoughtful splurger and probably will stay at this level. It’s important to safe for your future but if you always care about your future self, you can never really enjoy life in the present (and so can’t your loved ones around you).

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Its a great level to hover in! I hope we move fully into it as our frugality journey continues.

      100% agreed, don’t pass up happiness now – find a way to get both

      Reply
  3. ChooseBetterLife

    We’re right in-between thoughtful splurger and frugal-ish too. I thought we were more extreme, but nope. Maybe we’re not as weird as our friends and family think!
    Thanks for this fun personality test- it definitely made me smile today since I just got home from Costco with brand new slippers. My vintage early-2000’s pair is still in good shape, but my husband won’t let me wear them around company anymore because their fashion moment has passed.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Haha, considering the average person falls low on the scale anyone up top might be considered “weird” (but geniuses obviously)

      I write for smiles

      haha, that sounds like a Frugality Master set of slippers (or maybe cheapskate?)

      Reply
  4. Pamela

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I didn’t even know there was such terminologies. I think I would consider myself a thoughtful splurger with some frugality master tendencies. It was interesting reading the different types because I could relate to some aspect of many of them.
    The biggest thing I think I spend money on unneccasirly is food and eating out. I need to find a way to redirect these expenses to other things I enjoy doing like travel and extracurriccular activities.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thanks Pamela (I made the terms up :))

      We eat out on a regular basis – sometimes it for the convenience factor, but most of the time its because we enjoy trying new foods and restaurants.

      Appreciate the comment

      Reply
  5. Physician on FIRE

    I believe we fall into the Thoughtful Splurger category.

    I don’t reach into the **55 lb** dog food bag, but I turn it upside down and the few remaining pieces scatter everywhere but into the bowl they were destined for. And the dog food dust settles in a two to three foot radius around the bowl. It’s magnificent.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      That is a big ass bag of dog food – Do you go straight from Bag to Bowl?

      Reply
  6. Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T.

    Interesting! These totally make sense.

    I’d say that I am Frugal-ish. As I write this, I’ve cranked up the heat in my apartment to 75 – not because I’m a glutton for high heating bills, but because I’m a small person and my thermal inertia is not large. I tell myself it’s an investment in finger dexterity so I can type to make more money. 🙂

    But, I will NOT pay for greeting cards either. Never understood why people needed to play into that marketing game. Probably the same people who buy expensive diamonds on engagement rings.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      haha – Mrs. AE does the same thing, I will come home and the fireplace will be on and its way to hot (the dog enjoys her splurge and is usually sleeping 2 inches from the front.

      Wahoo! another greeting card hater!

      Reply
  7. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    I definitely fall into the “thoughtful splurger” category, though at times I’ll fall into “frugality master” (but I’m in and out relatively quickly).

    I’m with you on greeting cards! 🙂 I tell my husband not to even bother buying me one for birthdays or anniversaries. And my mom has been giving me the same birthday card for a couple of years – I just hand my card back to her to keep for next year (she was reluctant, but has come to accept my aversion to cards). I know some people love the sentiment, and I appreciate that. But I know my family loves me – they don’t have to spend $5 on something I’ll recycle tomorrow just to let me know that.

    Reply
    1. [email protected]

      LOVE this Amanda! We are SO not into greeting cards! I’d rather talk to someone than get the $5 card they send. We are definitely “thoughtful splurgers” too. It does sound like most of the PF crew fits here based on the comments!

      Reply
      1. Apathy Ends Post author

        Mrs. AE insists that I have to put cash/check in a card for weddings – if I had it my way I would just hand it to them and say dont send me a thank you 🙂

        Loving that I am not alone on this one!

        Thanks for the comments Vicki/Amanda

        Reply
  8. AustralianDividendInvestor

    Thoughtful splurger checking in. I refuse to compromise on experiences, even if it means putting my future retirement back a bit. You don’t get any time back when you retire, so its important to make the most of your younger years while also being sensible about your future, in my opinion.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      I am with ya there ADI – we do our best to keep that balance intact as well

      Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thank you! Appreciate the comment

      Reply
  9. The Green Swan

    Great list, AE! When I started my career I would say I was nearing the Master stage, saving anything and everything I could. Since my career has advanced and the economy has improved I would say I’m firmly in the thoughtful spender category now.

    Thanks for the fun post!

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Hey Mr. Swan – you built your base and can now splurge on some experiences, great way to tackle it

      Appreciate the comment as always

      Reply
  10. Mrs. BITA

    We’re like you – somewhere in between Thoughtful Splurger and Frugal-ish. For a few select things though I’m weirdly and excessively frugal. Paper towels are one. I am constantly using little bits instead of full sheets and I have even been known to dry out a full sheet (say if it was only used to mop up water), and reuse it. It drives Mr. BITA crazy.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Paper towels drive me a little nuts, I like using actual towels most of the time. Its funny when you find a few things to go ultra frugal on and stick to it even if people think your a little crazy

      Appreciate the comment!

      Reply
  11. H
    Hot Dawg

    I would say I’m frugalish. If by skipping name brands your talking about clothes, that’s me. But on foods I get whatever brand I like. The savings is where I’m at though, I save a good portion of my income but maybe could shave of 10-15% if I cut out some other things. Wonderful post!

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thank you! Yea, when I sit and think about some of the stuff we spend money on we could hack a meaningful % off with a few adjustments. Slowly working our way there 🙂

      Reply
  12. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

    LOL about the dog food! We don’t have a dog though so I’m not sure where I’d fall on this.

    I’d like to think we are somewhere around Frugal Master but maybe I’m flattering myself. I could also lean toward a lot of duck tape, or thoughtful spending on what we value. We just hemorrhaged money on a family wedding, but family’s part of what money’s for, right?

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      A Frugal Master!!!!

      Spending time with family on experiences definetely falls in the priority bucket for us. With family in a few states it is a consistent necessary expense

      Thanks for the comment

      Reply
  13. TJ

    I have a weird relationship with greeting cards. I don’t like them so much for or from family or close friends because they are expected, but if I receive an unexpected greeting card from someone, it brightens my day. I suppose that’s my attitude to gift giving / receiving in general. Not because of the actual gift or card, but the thought behind it.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thats a good reason to like them – I take aim at the ones that are more of a formality than a thoughtful gesture – where you walk in a store to get one – just to have one

      Appreciate the comment!

      Reply
  14. Chris @ MindfulExplorer

    Dang ~ we sure all do fall into the similar category. Now if we were over at MMM or ERE we had better move up the ladder hey 🙂 Great post ApathyEnds and I really enjoyed the breakdown.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thank you – and yes, I would probably have to put a new category up for the Mustachian crowd

      Reply
  15. Miss Mazuma

    Love this!! I am a Frugality Master but I definitely flirt with being a cheapskate once in a while (money hoarding is exciting!!). I always get the last bits from the dog food bag and my dog helps by getting the last bits out of the PB jar. We have a frugal no waste system going for sure. 🙂

    PS – I had to google what zubaz were..I didn’t know they had a name! Thanks for nothing – now I can’t unsee them from my eyes. Every time I close my eyes I picture a dude in a mullet wearing those, a half shirt, and a leather fanny pack to go with it. The. Worst.

    Reply
    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Haha, I am sure my dog would take that deal in a heartbeat. He is super spoiled already though……

      I own 2 pairs of Zubaz that are Vikings colors for game days – 2 because my Mother in law was embarrassed about the holes while we were at the stadium…… No half shirts, mullets or fanny packs though…… 🙂

      Reply
  16. Paulie

    Well, being Scottish I get labelled a cheapskate no matter what I do!
    Great post, there is always a balance to be found!
    Cheers,
    Paulie

    Reply
  17. Andrew

    Great post! I laughed at some of the characteristics because they’re so accurate.

    I think the best one that describes me is “The Thoughtful Splurger”

    I’m working towards financial independence, but not at the cost of my health or happiness. As a result, I do spend money to have good experiences like travel.

    Reply
  18. Financial Slacker

    I’m with you falling somewhere between “The Thoughtful Splurger” and “Frugal-Ish”.

    At times, we’ve earned good incomes over the years, but have also chosen to spend in certain areas at certain times.

    For us, the key has been to structure our lives to automatically save money. This keeps us from worrying about money too much and instead focusing on living our life. It also means, I don’t feel like I’m particularly frugal when in fact we are.

    Reply
  19. S
    Sarah @tortoisehappy.com

    I’m in the frugalish and thoughtful spender categories. We love to travel and we weigh up cost v quality. But I’m also happy with non brand foods and try to batch cook, wear extra layers before putting the heating on. My frugalish tendencies mean I have the cash to be a thoughtful spender!

    Reply
  20. Dividends Down Under

    I’d say we’re in between the Frugality Master and thoughtful splurger categories. We don’t make EVERY single dollar work as hard as they could, but we make most of them work as hard as we can 🙂

    Tristan

    Reply
  21. Gary @ Super Saving Tips

    Great scale you’ve set up! Like many of the others, we’re somewhere between Thoughtful Splurgers and Frugal-Ish. We could definitely trim more if we needed to, but we’ve chosen to splurge on the areas that are important to us.

    Reply
  22. [email protected]

    Wow, when I’m with my friends I always assumed I’m a cheapskate. Because it always seem like I was missing out on a lot of experiences with them. But looking through this post, made me realised I’m probably between a “thoughtful splurger” and “frugalish”. Which… Isn’t so bad!

    Reply
  23. T
    Trip

    Excellent post! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else attempt to describe such a spectrum.

    Since my college and working days, I’d fall into the first 4 categories at different times in my life. The financial crisis of late 2007 to early 2009 definitely shifted me to “The Frugality Master” during those years and all the years since.

    I’m taking conscious steps to shift more toward “The Thoughtful Splurger” since my family is very close to FI now.

    Reply

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